LYNNWOOD, Wash., February 24, 2023—The Lynnwood City Council discussed some potential uses for the remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds during their work session on February 21.
To date, the Lynnwood City Council has allocated roughly $9.8 million of the ARPA money it has received. There is still a little over $1.1 million remaining.
The Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts department requested funding of $388,432 for two full-time, limited-term maintenance employees to largely tackle graffiti. Director Lynn Sordel stressed the need for the increase in staff, stating the parks department has been “impacted by unprecedented acts of graffiti.” The two positions would be paid for with ARPA funds for two years and be evaluated to decide whether to maintain them or not.
“I believe the use of ARPA funds is the right approach. This idea meets the ARPA guidelines and will benefit the entire community as it is truly an investment in public safety,” Sordel said.
According to both the parks department and Lynnwood Police, there is a noticeable decrease in graffiti when it is quickly removed. As such, the primary goal with adding these two full-time employees is to remove graffiti within 24 hours or less.
“The swift removal of graffiti has been shown to discourage this behavior by rendering it ineffective,” Sordel said. ‘It takes away the gang’s purpose — which is to glorify themselves and mark their territory.”
Lynnwood Police Department Deputy Chief Chuck Steichen shared the same sentiment as the parks department.
“We support it. Obviously, it very much follows that ‘broken windows theory’ to get the graffiti covered as soon as possible,” Steichen said. “If you get it covered quickly — most notably, within 24 hours — it’s going to create less of a desire for them to come back and retag it. Essentially, it’s a waste of their efforts to go out there, take the risk, put up the tag just to have it covered 24 hours later. So clearly, we are supportive of it. I think if you continue this aspect of responding and getting it covered quickly, hopefully you’ll diminish the amount of graffiti that’s impacting the city overall, not just in our parks.”
The parks department currently addresses graffiti as quickly as possible, but Parks Maintenance and Operations Manager Eric Peterson commented that it delays the routine maintenance schedule.
“Currently, staff has been in the mode of providing reactionary maintenance based on external factors,” Peterson said. “This is a great opportunity to redirect existing staff back to our ongoing routine maintenance needs.”
Peterson added that in addition to graffiti, the parks department is facing “daily” instances of vandalism. He noted the destruction of drinking fountains, costing the city $7000 just to replace a single fountain — excluding labor and staff time. Peterson outlined that the additional staff would have other responsibilities, such as patrolling parks and properly locking up facilities at closing time.
Council President Shannon Sessions did ask the parks department and Steichen about volunteer efforts to clean up graffiti and the possibility of contracting a private company to deal with graffiti, but both stated issues regarding the speed of response.
“This isn’t something that self-heals. Gangs don’t suddenly say, ‘hey, we’ve tagged everything, we’re going to go somewhere else now.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Councilmember Patrick Decker said. “Unless we invest in addressing this, it is not going to go away — it’s only going to get worse.”
As for other uses for the remaining ARPA funds, Lynnwood Councilman Decker suggested using some or all of the $1.1 million on road maintenance. Councilmember George Hurst disagreed, stating that the council already utilized funds from the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) on fixing roads.
Hurst instead suggested using the funds on community outreach, specifically mentioning the increased need for mental health services in schools.
Sessions and Council Vice President Julieta Altamirano-Crosby asked Finance Director Michelle Meyer about ARPA fund uses benefitting the Northwest Veterans Museum in Heritage Park. This included funding for events, but also a request back in December of last year to cover between $5,000-10,000 in insurance, utilities and non-profit costs during the months they were closed due to COVID.